Vet risked rank, life for flyer

Hud­ner a gen­uine Amer­i­can hero

Boston Herald - - NEWS -

Em­bed­ded in ev­ery act of hero­ism is an act of pure, self­less love.

Thomas Jerome Hud­ner Jr. died at his home in Con­cord yes­ter­day at the age of 93, wrapped in his fam­ily’s peace­ful and lov­ing em­brace.

Tom Hud­ner would also be the first per­son to tell you he could have, and by all ac­counts should have, died 67 years ago on a frozen moun­tain­top in Korea.

In that bru­tal De­cem­ber of 1950, the 26-year-old naval avi­a­tor was ready and will­ing to die in a defiant and heroic at­tempt to save the life of his fel­low pi­lot, En­sign Jesse Brown.

Just about ev­ery­thing Tom Hud­ner did on that fate­ful day in Korea could have got­ten him court mar­tialed or, at the very least, drummed out of the Navy.

In­stead, Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man draped the Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor around his neck.

“While at­tempt­ing to res­cue a squadron mate whose air­plane was struck down by anti-air­craft fire,” his ci­ta­tion reads, “Hud­ner put his plane down skill­fully in a wheels up land­ing in the pres­ence of en­emy troops.

“With his bare hands, he packed the fuse­lage with snow to keep the flames away from the pi­lot and tried to pull him free.”

What Tom Hud­ner did that day flew in the face of all the rules — both mil­i­tary and, in a great many ways, civil­ian.

It was two years ago on Veter­ans Day that Tom Hud­ner sat in his Con­cord liv­ing room and told me, “We were told not to do what I did, but I just couldn’t live with the thought for the rest of my life if I hadn’t made the ef­fort, in some sort of way, to get Jesse out of that air­plane.” Tom Hud­ner did not suc­ceed and nearly died try­ing. He was a grad­u­ate of both Phillips Academy and the Naval Academy. Jesse Brown, the squadron mate he tried in vain to save, was the son of a Mis­sis­sippi share­crop­per and the Navy’s first black com­bat pi­lot.

And all of this took place on the ridge of a frozen moun­tain, half a world away from Mis­sis­sippi, where black men like En­sign Jesse Brown were pro­hib­ited from eat­ing at lunch coun­ters or vot­ing.

The last words Jesse Brown left with Tom Hud­ner as the flames of his burn­ing wreck closed in were about his wife and high school sweet­heart. “Tell Daisy how much I love her,” Hud­ner’s wing­man told him.

In­deed, Tom Hud­ner be­came a sur­ro­gate un­cle to his fel­low pi­lot’s fam­ily over the years.

“Tom has helped to hu­man­ize my grand­fa­ther for me,” Jesse Brown’s grand­daugh­ter told me two years ago. “He’s been a great source of com­fort to me and my fam­ily.”

Yes­ter­day, we lost a com­pas­sion­ate, en­light­ened and hum­ble gen­tle­man, who just hap­pened to be a gen­uine Amer­i­can hero. May God speed.


MAN OF HONOR: Korean War fighter pi­lot Thomas Hud­ner Jr., above, risked his life to save squadron mate Jesse Brown, left. Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man joins hands with Hud­ner and Daisy Brown af­ter award­ing Hud­ner the Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor in 1951. Hud­ner also had a ship named af­ter him, be­low left.


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